Meghan Murphy may host a slick, much-followed blog, she may get Twitter traction, she may get published in mainstream media but, bottom line, she writes purely from the blinkered perspective of a Women’s Studies 101 Radical Feminism textbook.
Some might call that the viewpoint of a white, privileged, settler, anti-sex worker and anti-trans rights, even racist, CIS woman.
In fact, they do, as they did in a controversial call to rabble.ca last week to get Murphy dumped from this site, both as an unpaid blog contributor and a part-time paid editor. Twenty-one grassroots groups and non-profit organizations that advocate for sex workers and/or trans persons are asking supporters to sign on and, so far, more than 1200 have.
I wasn’t one of them, even though I agree with the spirit of their open letter:
"Murphy has been publishing material that dehumanizes and disrespects women with different experiences and perspectives than hers for many years, in particular Black women, women in the sex industry and trans women," the groups state. "It is unjust of rabble to financially support her bigotry."
Now understand that Murphy and her RadFemosphere call me a “neoliberal,” men’s rights-supporting member of the "pimp lobby" just because I am pro-sex worker and trans rights. To me, sex workers and trans persons are entitled to the same constitutional rights that coal miners or columnists get. Men who transition to women are not invading women’s spaces, bodies or bathrooms. Sex work is not "paid rape" when it is freely chosen and practiced by consenting adults. So that’s where I am coming from.
But here’s the thing.
Despite how those radical feminists who, intentionally and/or ignorantly, shame, marginalize and stigmatize "prostituted women" because they "sell their bodies" and serve the "capitalist patriarchy," their voices are almost as marginalized as those of sex workers and trans persons.
I say "almost" because there are no longer consistently feminist voices – of any political stripe -- in the corporate media. That said, this year’s $5000 Michele Landsberg Award went to the Toronto Star’s Heather Heather Mallick for her vastly prejudicial musings on prostitution in Europe, as if they applied to the situation in Canada.
But I do recognize that rabble, by dint of its position as an alternative news site, has to allow some room for that point of view because, on a theoretical plane anyway, it has a place in feminism which is not monolithic.
More important, I don’t believe in silencing those with whom one disagrees. That goes for those who advocate for Palestinian rights or any other controversial, divisive subject.
This is why I did not join the Twitter #DropMM pile-on and could not sign that letter – even though reading Murphy’s scribblings, which I no longer do because I loathe bad research used to advance ideological positions, makes me scream at my computer.
Not surprisingly, there was a backlash to the demand for Murphy’s association with rabble.
A pro-Murphy petition, now signed by more than 2,000, immediately made the rounds: "The neoliberal smear tactics have to stop. If people can't handle an alternative opinion then they should use their respective voices and spaces, not try and silence dissent. It's not feminist to no-platform women you don't agree with."
I didn’t sign that letter either, mostly because it claims that the sex worker and trans rights grassroots groups who started this conflagration have "given no adequate reasons nor evidence as to why Murphy should be fired/restricted in her writing."
That’s not true. They referred to plenty of Murphy’s toxic quotes and provided links to her poisonous posts, including some in rabble.
The trigger for all this was a yet another piece that Murphy wrote for her own blog, not on rabble. It singled out “the transgender actress” Laverne Cox ("Orange is the New Black") who had posed for the annual "Nudes Issue" of Allure . (Tellingly, Murphy ignored all the photoshopped, cosmetically-overhauled, naked and half-naked mostly white models in the fashion mag.)
Murphy took issue with Cox’s admission that, although she had at first been reluctant to pose, she finally agreed because it "Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about herself might be inspiring to some other folks."
Murphy mean-spiritedly called that "all kinds of backwards."
She charged that Cox, by virtue of undergoing therapies and surgeries to make herself over into a curvaceous woman, was not self-accepting at all. Cox, Murphy claimed, had fallen prey to all the usual pressures on women "to hate their bodies and work to alter them to suit the expectations of a misogynist society."
She lectured: "If women or transwomen were truly allowed to love themselves, I doubt they’d be spending thousands and thousands of dollars sculpting their bodies in order to look like some cartoonish version of 'woman,' as defined by the porn industry and pop culture."
The signatories to the anti-Murphy letter rightly objected: "Laverne Cox is not a cartoonish version of a woman. She is a woman, a Black trans woman who is changing history by defining her own beauty and loveability in the public sphere."
There’s no question that sex workers, who are always misleadingly depicted as streetwalkers leaning into cars, can’t catch a break in most media. (It’s as if journalists have never heard of the Internet, which is where more than 80 per cent of escorts conduct their business.) And it’s true that Murphy, Mallick and their ilk stand with R.E.A.L. Women, homophobic religious fundamentalists and the HarperCons on trans rights and the Orwellian Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.
So, sex workers and trans persons absolutely need safe places in the media, and rabble should clear space for them. But demanding Murphy’s dismissal is just plain wrong, even if rabble is dedicated to providing a forum for progressive, pro-worker views. Better to expose them by allowing them to state their illogical, cruel case built on such shoddy research that three Canadian courts rejected it.
You don’t like what Murphy preaches? Then shoot it down. Demand that rabble provide equal time. Fight back. Don’t let her and her acolytes celebrate the theft of women’s agency, don’t allow them to deny the choices or harsh realities faced by sex workers or trans persons, don’t give them an inch to infantilize or stigmatize.
In short, call Murphy out. But don’t call for her head. That will not silence her. It will only hand her a megaphone.
Antonia Zerbisias is a former columnist for the Toronto Star and is the co-creator of #BeenRapedNeverReported.
Editor’s note: This article is one part of rabble.ca’s coverage of calls to remove Meghan Murphy’s writing from the site and fire her, and a subsequent call for rabble.ca to continue to publish her. If you’re following the story, you can read the petition against Meghan Murphy HERE. You can read the petition in support of her HERE. You can read the open letter in support of Meghan HERE. rabble.ca’s initial statement on the calls to remove her HERE. Our second statement on the petitions can be found HERE. You can find the article that sparked these actions not on rabble, but at HERE at Feminist Current.
While we have closed comments on this blog post, you can join the discussion HERE at babble.
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